Customs unveils container ‘fast lane’ pilot program

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has launched pilot test being billed as a ‘fast lane’ for cargo containers at four U.S ports.

The ports of New Orleans, Oakland, Baltimore and Everglades will be the first to participate in the Advanced Qualified Un-lading Approval (AQUA) program.

Customs said it anticipates that the program will allow ocean carriers to achieve quicker vessel turnaround times in the port. Faster container movements, in turn, will also benefit importers as well, the agency said in a statement.

Instead of requiring vessels to wait for Customs officers to board and clear a ship, under the pilot program, cargo can be pre-cleared by Customs agents 12 hours prior to estimated arrival.

At participating ports, Customs-Trade Partnership against Terrorism (C-TPAT) qualified carriers that are also compliant with importer security filing requirements can apply for AQUA a minimum of 24 hours before arrival at a port. Customs will then respond at least 12 hours out.

Carriers will then be able to immediately unload containers upon arrival. However, the crew must remain with the vessel until formal Customs processing is done and all containers are delivered to a C-TPAT member terminal operator.

The AQUA program allows sea carriers to better predict unloading times for labor cost purposes and allows Customs to better allocate resources and manpower as necessary, according to Customs. There are also potential cost savings on fuel and dockage fees, Customs said.

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